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Review Orhan Pamuk's novel The Museum of Innocence

Orhan Pamuk’s Masumiyet Muzesi (The Museum of Innocence)

I was on business trip to Istanbul Turkey again between July and August.
29th of August 2008 Orhan Pamuk’s latest novel (Masumiyet Muzesi) was published in Turkey, so I wanted to buy before I flew back to USA. I was working in many locations; it was hard to find a bookstore that sells even Nobel Prize winner book. I could not find it in many local bookstores. Actually to my surprise, they had not even heard the book’s name. I stayed at my brother’s flat before leaving the country. He bought the book for me. There it was, I was eager to read it on the road. I put The Museum of Innocence into my carry-on and caught Istanbul- Amsterdam - Portland flight at 5 am in the morning.
I started to read when I was on the plane. Unfortunately as I was guessing, it was not the right book to read on a long flight -17 hours. So I choose to read another book during the flight, a more interesting one.
Later, in a rainy Portland day I restarted to read the novel. This is the second longest book of his after Cevdet Bey ve Ogullari, it is 592 pages. When you start to read a book, if you look at how many page the book is, usually it is not a good sign. I was surprise at the beginning of the book, his style seemed changed. I have red all of his books. His - author / narrator - voice became more mannish, his worldview is definitely more ego centric.

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On page 38 he speaks to his readers says:
“Romanimizin bu kismini okutan lise ogretmenleri endiseye kapildiysa , ogrencilerine su bir sayfayi atlamalarini onerebilirler. ”

He suggests to high school teachers, to advise to their students not to read this page. Because of a description of a love making scene. This warning made me laugh a lot. He tries to look at the Turkish culture like an anthropologist, describing values which matter to them. Virginity, equality, role of the man in the society, friendship etc. While he was writing about these values his sarcasm is well hidden. He portrays perfectly well of a rich man attitude.
I have to admit that, 400 complete scenes full of detailed daily life of Istanbul families turned to boredom, pushing my limits to not to give up. I was indeed persistent to finish the book though. After reading the book I was so curious how many Turks really read the book? I called almost every friend of mine. So far none of them read it. I asked my brother did he read it? He said he could only read 100 pages, he gave up, it was way too boring. Then I was eager to read comment of the book from readers. It seemed like either they read a different book, or I was delusional.
It could not be possible what I was thinking of the book, and what they really thinking about the book, could be same thing. One of us must be wrong.
Many Turkish critiques, columnist talked about book as a great love novel. I disagree, in fact this was a perfect black comedy of a love novel .
Here is the story line of the book:
Kemal, who is coming from a rich family, well educated about 30 years old, is about to engage to rich girl Sibel. Kemal ran into his far relative, poor cousin Füsun, while he was buying an expensive bag as a gift to his future fiancée Sibel.
He develops an erotic obsession for pretty young girl Fusun. She was working in a chic boutique as a salesperson. When Kemal sees her beauty, he wants to have her. The plot is very classic so far. (Many Yesilcam movies -let’s put it as Turkish Film Industry- poor imitation of Hollywood style, played this subject over and over in thousands love movies.) He is rich, she is young and pretty. He makes love with her. She looses her virginity to him.
He thinks that he can keep her as his mistress after he gets married to Sibel. He even invites Fusun to his engagement party. After the party Fusun disappears. She does not come to meet him again. He searches for her a long time. He collects every item she touched in the small apartment, which they used to make love in until his engagement day. He feels lonely, helpless, and looks for her everywhere. His relationship with Sibel goes badly. After, Sibel supports him for a long time, tries to understand him and forgives his betrayal . Even they live in a same house, he cannot love Sibel the way he loved her before. He cannot even make love with her again. Finally Sibel got tired of this situation, and goes to Paris to finish her doctorate and breaks the engagement.
Kemal continues to look for Fusun. 3 years later he finds her. He wants to marry her. When he visits her family house, he learns that Fusun has married Feridun. This does not stop him from thinking about his endless love towards her; continues to see her almost every day for 8 years. He visits her family regularly. Even though Fusun is married she still lives with her family. Feridun is a screenwriter. Kemal decides to support Fusun at any cost. So he supports her husband as well. As long as he can see her, he does not care about what goes around the world or in his business. He addictively collects every item she touches. He steals these items from her house. At the end of the book he makes a museum of these items. Cigarette butts, her hair clips, hair brush, ashtrays, glasses, salt and pepper shakers, any objects that her lips, or hands touches, he likes to possess it. He becomes involved in film business because of Feridun. Kemal became film producer. He puts money into Feridun’s film project.
Fusun wants to be movie star. She continues to be friend with Kemal but nothing more. Feridun fell in love with a movie star who plays main role in his movie. He moves in with her into an apartment. He soon divorce Fusun. Kemal thinks that, now after waiting that such a long time in the name of the love, they can get married. He proposes.
Before they marry, they decided to go to Europe by car. Kemal and Fusun after 8 years later, are in a hotel room and they make love again. He was so happy to have her again. Early in the morning, Fusun gets out of hotel room and takes a walk on the empty road. Kemal follows her on the road in his car. She asks permission to drive his car. He allows it even though he knows she does not have driver license and is a bad driver. She wrecks the car into a tree on purpose and dies. Kemal survives from the accident. He decides to make a museum of these objects over the years he collects. The museum of Innocence must be remind of a pure love whoever believes love.
This story begins in 1975, and ends around today. During this long of period of time in the book, you can read about details of daily life. Revealing what Turkish people value, families, friendship, men and women relationships, loneliness, happiness, morality. How Turks believe newspapers, role of the television in ordinary people’s life, watching films, listening radios, fashion and shopping.
Orhan Pamuk uses such detail description of the objects that you can almost touch them or smell them. It is interesting to see the many details of a ordinary life, and amazing how boring it can get. Who really cares how Turks like to fold carpet fringe underneath, so that fringe will not get dirty as quickly.
While we can read in the book pages and pages of well description of her movements, how he touches her objects, the outside world only mention in a couple lines. In the book, Kemal feels bad about martial law days, after The Military Coup in Turkey, 1980. He feels bad because he cannot be in the street after 11pm, so he has to leave early from Fusun’s family home!

It did make me think that the article 301 must really have been effective on him. He chooses to not to make much comment of political arenas. The description of the characters are certainly very well written. We read many pages full of very detail description of her body movements, how she holds tea glasses in her hands, how she leans forward when she shake hands and so on. But not much of how she thinks, rather we learn how Kemal thinks of her.
In my opinion, Orhan Pamuk writes a distorted man’s reality as fact of Turkey. In the book almost all young women characters are waiting for a man to get married. Even the most educated women eventually should get marry and keep their virginity for the right man. If they lose their virginity they are not a good girl anymore. More like they should accept any offer from any man, because who would want them anyway? Rich girls, who make love with their lovers, should be even careful who would sleep with. Their names get dirty, they may never find a husband! Man on the other hand, they can sleep anyone they could find, they can even afford to have mistress that is perfectly acceptable. This double standard moral behavior theme was written all over the book. If Orhan Pamuk is trying to show the Turkish society’s immoral double standards towards women, he is successful about that.
He pictures high society as only superficially imitating western values, but not practicing, such as equality, freedom, individuality, so on. They only imitate their clothing style, fashion, and shopping but nothing more.
It seems like from a man’s perspective, women can be only object of their love, as long as they are pure.
Virginity is the only value for women in Turkish society’s eyes and enforcing the women to obey it.
In the novel well educated women’s ultimate reason, was finding a good husband.In this book, even well educated women’s ultimate reason, was finding a good husband. Sibel represents a well educated , rich girl who loves Kemal. After Kemal cheated on her with young Fusun, she patiently waiting for Kemal to love her again. Kemal can not make love with her anymore, because he is deeply in love with Fusun. Why would Kemal deeply in love with this 18 years old girl anyway? In the novel we learn that Fusun is pretty, but that all we can say about it. She is not smart, she has no real goal in the life. She did not pass to exam to go to university. She did not get her diving license failing the exam. She is just a house girl. She is a submissive character. On the other hand, Sibel can make decision, choose to be educated, more individual. When Kemal admire Fusun so highly, are we seeing Turkish girl’s role as being submissive? None of the young female characters looked for a job, or worked successfully. Rather they are busy looking the right guy. Do girls go to collage, just finding better husband then?

I would not call this book as a great love novel. Is there any weird women out there fell in love with a guy who collects her cigarette butts, her handkerchiefs, chewed bubble gums, olive pits, her earrings, hair clips stolen from her, in the name of love? He is a pathetic obsessive loser! Even calling this collection of junk of a museum does not change the fact. The weak point of this book, Fusun and Kemal are both obnoxious characters. Fusun kills herself at the end of the book because she did not become a movie star. I may ask how would that be possible anyway? Besides being pretty, she never did anything to become an actress. She was most the time a house girl, washed dishes and went to movies couple times. It is hard to believe her unrealistic expectation. If she wanted to be a movie star she would put some effort on it. She did not go to any course, did not take any lesson, did not contact any filmmaker, but at the end she was so disappointed to kill herself for it. That is a little too much to accept.
Who can really identify with these characters? If they do, we should really ask ourselves, can we lower the bar more?
I read this book as well written sarcasm of Turkish society’s moral values. Not “what is the origin of love” question.

This book is more about nature of relationships, fetish, addiction, obsession, collections, longing and Istanbul’s street memories.

© 2008 Reviewed by NUR KARLICA IVERSON

Masumiyet Muzesi

Author : Orhan Pamuk
Yayınevi : İletisim
Pages: 592
ISBN : 9789750506093